Wanting More or Less Public Displays of Affection

How To Talk about Wanting More or Less Public Displays of Affection

Public displays of affection, or PDA, can be a hotly contested issue in relationships.

While it might seem like “no big deal” it can bring out feelings of self-worth, of being attractive or lovable, and particularly when we’re not getting the PDA we want, or we’re being pushed to give more than we’re comfortable with, it’s an issue that can feel deeply divisive. Instead of thinking of a conversation about PDA as a chore or compromise, consider it a great opportunity to learn more about your own and your partner’s basic values and feelings about sex, love, and attraction.

Whenever you want to have a conversation about sex make sure you’ve got time and privacy.

Don’t talk about public displays of affection in public.

If you’re in a relationship with someone who never wants to talk about anything these aren’t the tips for you. But if you’ve got a willing partner, timing can make the difference between a productive and exciting conversation and one that goes nowhere fast.

The time to talk about public displays of affection is definitely not when you’re in public and trying to get your partner to do something or stop doing something. Pick a time when you’re alone, you’re not rushing around, and you’re both feeling relatively relaxed.

Define PDA for yourselves.

You should never start a conversation about sex with any assumptions. So your first step is for each of you to make your own list of all the things you’d consider to be public displays of affection.

Things like hand holding and hugging may seem obvious, but what about heavy make out sessions, or things that you do in public that you try to keep hidden?

Where’s the line between PDA and sex in public? You can include any activities that you think cross the line just for a reference point.

Public Displays of Affection

  • Kisses: There are certain times it’s okay to kiss the person you love, such as when you are greeting someone or saying goodbye. However, you shouldn’t have a long, drawn-out kiss in front of an audience unless you are acting on a stage. Even then it’s questionable and should come with a rating.
  • Touching: Whether it’s uncomfortable, risky, or obstructs traffic, it’s almost always appropriate to hold hands with anyone.
    When you’re sitting or strolling through the park, an arm wrapped around someone is appropriate.
    However, touching another person in a private area in public is never appropriate.
  • Groping: Groping in public is never appropriate. Such touching manner is even illegal in public.
  • Tastes and nibbles: Since you’re not a vampire, you shouldn’t lick or bite the person you love in front of other people.
  • Showing your affection on social media: In a broadcast message, public forum, or other social network environment, you should never text, share, or communicate something intimately personal. You would not only make people unhappy, but you might also embarass the person you’re showing affection to..

Sketch out your own lines.

Now that you have a list that describes what you consider public displays of affection to include, go down that list (still on your own) and think about what activities you’re comfortable with, which ones you aren’t, and which ones you’re not sure about. For each activity, can you think of times and places where you’d be okay with it and other contexts where you wouldn’t?

Note that down too. All of this is helpful in sketching out your own feelings and boundaries, which will help when you start talking to your partner about theirs.

Trade notes.

You can decide to just give each other the lists you’ve written out, or make a time to share your notes verbally, taking turns talking about what you think does and doesn’t count as PDA, and when you’re okay with it or not.

As you do this DO NOT start debating or arguing about what your partner has written down (even if you think they aren’t being “honest”). Being able to listen without attacking is key to good sexual communication so now is the time to describe and listen, not debate.

Acknowledge the public part of PDA.

What makes PDA so problematic for some is the public part of them.

Whether you like it or not, when you’re in public other people will pay attention to what you do and interpret it in one way or another.

Being affectionate in public as long as you show basic consideration for others, is perfectly reasonable. But it still opens up the possibility of public responses that you or your partner may not want to deal with. That alone isn’t a reason not to do it, but if either of you decide you don’t want to deal with a public response, then it becomes a clear reason to avoid being too intimate in front of strangers.

Explain (don’t defend) yourself.

Ideally, if you want something different from your partner, you should be able to tell them why.

For example, can you finish this sentence: “the reason I want to be able to be affectionate with you in public is…”? This isn’t the same thing as defending what you want (which you shouldn’t have to do in a loving relationship).

But if you’re asking your partner to change their behavior, it’s reasonable for them to expect to understand why. Also, explaining why may help them change their behavior.

Listen and look for compromises.

If your partner is stuck on the issue and feels like they can’t be more (or less, as the case may be) affectionate in public go back to the exercise where you made your lists about what’s okay and what isn’t.

Were there any examples of PDA they were okay with? If so, can they offer to do more of that? And were there any examples of times or contexts when they’d be okay with PDA that you don’t usually find yourself in?

Perhaps you can create more times when they’re in a context that’s comfortable for them, which would give you more PDA.

How PDA may affect your reputation

You may not know it, but carrying too many PDAs in public places, such as school, or university can harm your reputation. People around you might believe that if you have a lot of erotic contact in the academic hallways, you’re doing a lot more in private.

This may not concern some people, but you may look back in the future and wish you had held back a little more.

Amie Dawson, Ph.D.

Amie Dawson, Ph.D.

As a certified sex educator and sex toy reviewer, Amie has spent her career empowering individuals and couples to embrace their sexuality.

With a Ph.D. in Human Sexuality and an ever-growing collection of over 200 vibrators, she's got the knowledge and experience to guide you on your pleasure-seeking journey.

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